Processed Food and risk of Cancer

Cancer is one of the major global health issues, and a major cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide.
There are list of factors that predisposes a person to develop cancer, from individual’s genetics to
exposure to sunlight, consumption of tobacco and alcohol etc.
Likewise diet and lifestyle factors could play a role in both cancer prevention and cancer development.
Over the past decades, diets have shifted towards the consumption of ultra-processed foods, characterised
by increased energy density and reduced nutritional quality.
Unprocessed or minimally processed foods are whole foods in which the vitamins and nutrients are still
intact. Ultra-processed foods are made mostly from substances extracted from foods, such as fats,
starches, added sugars, and hydrogenated fats. They may also contain additives like artificial colors and
flavors or stabilizers. Examples of these foods are frozen meals, soft drinks, hot dogs and cold cuts, fast
food, packaged cookies, cakes, and salty snacks.
European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) study investigated the association
between dietary intake according to amount of food processing and risk of cancer at 25 anatomical sites.
This study used data from the prospective EPIC cohort study, which recruited participants between March
18, 1991, and July 2, 2001, from 23 centres in ten European countries. 521 324 participants were recruited
into EPIC, and 450 111 were included in this analysis.
In a multivariate model adjusted for sex, smoking, education, physical activity, height, and diabetes, a
substitution of 10% of processed foods with an equal amount of minimally processed foods was
associated with reduced risk of overall. The substitution of 10% of ultra-processed foods with 10% of
minimally processed foods was associated with a reduced risk of head and neck cancers, colon cancer,
and hepatocellular carcinoma.
The study found a positive association between the consumption of ultra-processed and processed foods
and reduction of such foods can decrease the risk of cancer development.
One of the important targets of cancer prevention strategies in public health can be replacement of
processed and ultra-processed foods with an equal amount of minimally processed foods.